By Sherman Alexie
Grove Press | 266 pp | $27
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Entertainment. Discussion »
As an American Indian, Sherman Alexie, Spokane and Coeur d'Arlene, comes from a long tradition of storytellers. As the author of 22 books, Alexie is one of the foremost American Indian storytellers alive today.
A winner of the National Book Award for his 2007 "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, " Alexie's latest book "Blasphemy" was released this fall by Grove Press.
"Blasphemy" is an anthology that contains 15 short stories that were previously published in other books. If these 15 short stories were music, they would be referred to as 'oldies, but goodies.' "Blasphemy" contains 16 new short stories that will not disappoint Alexie fans.
Alexie's stories are about the lives of American Indians in the Pacific Northwest.
One of previously published stories is "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," a short story that provides one of the most realistic depictions of urban Indians I have ever read in fiction. It chronicles a 24 hour period in which an urban Indian works to buy his grandmother's powwow regalia from a pawn shop. The twenty-four hour journey takes many twists as the character attempts to raise money to make the purchase. The twists provide the view of what urban Indians endure within metropolises across America.
Another oldie is "War Dances." In the story, a search for a blanket provides a quick lesson in race relations. A man visits his ailing father in the hospital, where he is recovering from surgery and is cold. So the man stops by the nursing station to ask for a blanket and is given "a thin blanket, laundered and sterilized a hundred times It is more like the world's largest coffee filter."
The blanket is inadequate, so he sets out to find a warmer blanket - searching other parts of the hospital for a patient or a family who may have an extra blanket. Seeing a man of darker skin color, he notes,
"Maybe he was Mexican, which is really a kind of Indian, too, but not the kind I needed. It was hard to tell sometimes what people were. Even brown people guessed at the identity of other brown people."
The man turns out to be an Indian and his family has a room full of blankets - Pendleton blankets, at that. One is graciously given to him to provide warmth for his father.
At the end of the story, there is an exit interview for his father. His first question will make most American Indians stop and reflect: "True or False: When a reservation-raised Native American dies of alcoholism, it should be considered death by natural causes."
Alexie won the PEN/Faulkner Award for the book "War Dances."
Alexie is not afraid to confront the harsh realities on reservations today, such as use of methamphetamine. In one of his new stories, "Cry, Cry, Cry," he writes about a couple who after getting married went to a parking lot and smoked meth with a bunch of toothless wonders. He writes:
"A thousand years from now, archaeologists are going to be mystified by all the toothless skulls they find buried in the ancient reservation mud."
The short stories in "Blasphemy" should be savored and appreciated for their deeper messages.
Other new stories are about donkey basketball games, lethal wind turbines, good and bad marriages, and all species of warriors in America today.
Alexie is a master storyteller whose prose is laced with metaphoric realities of life, mixed with triumph and tragedy that most American Indians know is part of their lives.
posted December 15, 2012 7:57 am est